Review 2. Diagnosis: Dissent
An impressive main performance is at the center of a visually bold but uneven Soviet-era Ukrainian drama.
The main subject of Ukrainian filmmaker Denys Tarasov’s debut feature, Diagnosis: Dissent (Diagnoza: Dysydent) is the confrontation between the individual and society, and between rebellion and conformity. Tarasov shows the life of a young dissident, Andriy Dovzhenko (Kostyantyn Temlyak), who is dissatisfied with Soviet reality and has an ironic attitude toward it. He works on the radio, loves rock music, and has long hair. Visually or behaviorally, he does not fit into the standards of a citizen constructed by the Soviet Government. It is clear that this will be a problem not only for him but also for his young family, but due to his youthful stubbornness, the protagonist does not realize this.
In the second half of the last century, the ideological enmity between the Soviet Union and the USA was marked on the global political stage. The Soviet Union tried to follow a collective way of development, while the West preferred an individual, liberal path, which eventually took the extreme form of polarization and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the Cold War saw music, art, and various Western products smuggled into the Soviet Union to become very popular among young people as a symbol of freedom.
When the main character is arrested and locked up in a psychiatric clinic, the narrative transforms from a comedy into a kind of sadistic criminal drama. Dovzhenko is ironic towards reality and somehow satisfied with the rebellion against it. Later in the psychiatric clinic, which is a materialized metaphor of Soviet ideology, he will understand that the rebellion against such a system is not only about musical taste and long hair, but a mortal struggle against an enemy which is not only harming him, but his loved ones as well. This transformation of the main character is reflected in the face and behavior of the protagonist, a testament to the work of Kostyantyn Temlyak, whose acting can however appear affected at times.
Many films have been made about the Soviet Union and its evils, which have shaped lasting stereotypes in acting, casting and filming; Diagnosis: Dissent repeats almost every one of them. In some episodes, vulgar humor and stereotypical characters hinder the development of the narrative and the perception of the represented reality. The director’s attitude towards the people gathered in the psychiatric clinic is problematic – even if they are not mentally ill, the representation of such people does not require a stereotypical, ready-made template image, but rather a refined approach and perspective.
Based on real events, the story is especially relevant today, opening up opportunities to develop intriguing parallels and narratives. And yet Tarasov’s visionary impulses and chosen style deflate any sense of perspective built into the script. Instead of embracing the strength of the subject matter, Tarasov steers into grotesque and cliched directions, missing every chance he gets to create a riveting picture.
© FIPRESCI 2023